From Dr. Gregory–Your Baby Needs a “Cocoon” of Protection against Whooping Cough

2012 has been the worst year for whooping cough (also called pertussis) in the U.S. since the mid-1950s. The illness is especially dangerous for babies and young children and can even cause death, especially in infants under 1 year. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about half of infants under 1 year who get whooping cough will need to be hospitalized.

Whooping cough is caused by a type of bacteria. Its early symptoms, lasting a week or two, are much like a cold with perhaps a mild fever and a little coughing.  After the early stage, spells of coughing become severe, sometimes leading to vomiting and exhaustion. The baby may make a “whooping” sound as it gasps to breathe between coughing episodes. The severe cough may last 6 weeks or more. Infants can have episodes of apnea (slowed or stopped breathing).

The most important weapon against whooping cough is the pertussis vaccine (Tdap).  But infants cannot receive the vaccine until they are 2 months old and do not have maximum protection until after their third shot at about 6 months. During these early months, you can protect your baby from whooping cough by maintaining your own immunity and by avoiding contact with people who may not have been vaccinated.

Because of the increase in cases of whooping cough, the high risk to newborns, and reviews of the vaccine’s safety, the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) announced new provisional recommendations for pregnant women. In October 2012, it recommended that ALL pregnant women receive the Tdap vaccine with EACH PREGNANCY, regardless of their history of receiving the Tdap vaccine before. Mothers should receive the Tdap shot late in pregnancy (between 27 and 36 weeks) to maximize the immunity passed to the newborn. If you did not get vaccinated while you were pregnant, you should be vaccinated immediately after your baby is born, even if you are breastfeeding. At Sparks & Favor, we support the ACIP guideline and will recommend the vaccine to you at one of your later prenatal visits.

What else can you do to protect your baby? Studies show that 75% or more of newborns with whooping cough caught it from a family or household member. Make sure that siblings, grandparents, caregivers and anyone else who comes into contact with your baby has an up-to-date Tdap vaccination. Since your baby cannot receive its own vaccination until it is 2 months old, vaccinating family and caregivers surrounds the baby with a “cocoon” of protection. Caregivers and family members: if your Tdap vaccination is not up-to-date, it is important to get your booster vaccine at least two weeks before you will be in contact with an infant under the age of 1 year, to allow time for immunity to develop.

Build your baby’s cocoon. Click this link: to send an e-card to family members and others who may want to visit you and your baby.

Your obstetricians at Sparks & Favor want to support healthy outcomes for you and your baby.